In the rock-and-roll game, artist collaborations can be tricky business and have historically yielded mixed results – just ask Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson, or David Bowie and Mick Jagger.
However, the Memphis music scene, long known for its incestuousness, has tended to have a higher success rate in this regard. From Otis Redding and Carla Thomas, to more recent team-ups like the Wandering, the South Memphis String Band, and Motel Mirrors, local musicians have seemingly always worked and played together well. Never has this been more true than in the case of the River City's latest artist mash-up, Dead Dawls.
- Joey Miller
Dead Dawls is a local supergroup of sorts, combining the members – all eight of them – of the well-known local alt-country acts the Memphis Dawls and Dead Soldiers. The two groups have dabbled with more informal forms of collaboration in the past, with members of each band sitting in with the other at various shows around town. They also share the common members of drummer Paul Gilliam and violinist/multi-instrumentalist Krista Wroten-Combest. But with the release of their first combined effort, a two-song 7" vinyl record/digital download for the songs "Suburban Woman" and "Slow Motion," the two bands dove headfirst into the collaborative pool.
"Everyone really embraced the idea that this was kind of an experiment from the beginning, which is probably one of the reasons it worked," says singer/guitarist and Dead Soldiers member Michael Jasud. And so in January of this year, the bands began rehearsing together in earnest. In less than a month, they had produced two new songs.
"The songs came together quicker than any of us could have expected," says singer/guitarist Ben Aviotti, also a Dead Soldiers member. "We all collaborated on lyrics and arrangement."
"Suburban Woman" is an Alabama-esque, '80s pop-country masterpiece, featuring a strong hook and stacked vocal harmonies. Given the right connections and circumstances, it might legitimately have a shot on commercial radio. And the B-side, "Slow Motion," is a deeply affecting ballad, offering a nice emotional counterpoint.
Dead Dawls booked time at Toby Vest's High/Low Recording, tracking and mixing both tracks for the new single in only three days. The single was then mastered and cut to vinyl by local recording engineers Leo Goff and Jeff Powell, respectively.
"The recording process was both amazing and exhausting," says Aviotti. "It's without question one of my favorite things I've ever recorded in my life."
The record captures the distilled essence of both groups. Distinct elements of the more soulful and romantic Memphis Dawls and the more rambunctiously intimate Dead Soldiers are readily apparent and compliment each other perfectly.
"The most obvious themes in both bands include vocal harmonies and an undercurrent of southern gothic songwriting," says singer/guitarist Holly Cole, a member of the Memphis Dawls. "One has a more feminine style, and the other representing a more masculine style. The two do create sort of a yin and yang."
Dead Dawls will embark on a three-week tour to support the record in April. But first, the band will celebrate the new release this Friday, March 28th, with a performance at the Hi-Tone. "I'm really excited to take off its training wheels, kick it out there, and see how people absorb it," says Cole. "There is no doubt that it's like nothing any of us have done before. I, for one, am delightfully surprised by the product that has come out of this collaboration."
Moving forward, both bands have plans to release full-length albums in the near future and to continue touring separately. But they are also open to the possibility of working together in the future.
"While both bands have tons of great stuff on the horizon, we've all agreed that this needs to be a regularly occurring project," Aviotti said. "Maybe a single a year; maybe a full-length down the road, who knows?"
"I really like the idea of plugging albums that haven't been recorded yet," Jasud says. "Rappers are really smart about this. So having said that, look for the Dead Dawls record to drop in 2015."
"We've also got a couple of mix tapes we're gonna do before that."
The Dead Dawls record release show with special guests the Shine Brothers is at the Hi-Tone Friday, March 28th, at 9 p.m. $10.